Monday, 5 September 2011

‘A man walked into a bank . . .’

At the weekend I wandered around town a bit, leaving flyers and the occasional poster for the book fair in what seemed appropriate places. Lord knows if it’ll do any good. I’ve noticed that people – well, not all people – tend not to see what’s in front of them; they see instead what they expect to see. But I stumbled across a tiny second-hand bookshop in which I found a proof copy of George Barker’s In Memory of David Archer, copyright 1973 but, printed on the cover, ‘publication date not settled’. Lunch in a café where there was notice promising 10 per cent off if I told the man behind the counter a joke (not rude, not racist) which made him laugh. I told him one that was in the JC column on the back page of the TLS a week or so back, and got a salt beef sandwich for around £2. In another second-hand shop I bought a purple, more aubergine really, velvet jacket, I’ve no idea why, except that it fitted and the mood was on me. And in another café I bumped into the man who turns up once or twice a year on my doorstep selling his poetry pamphlets. I told him the joke from the TLS and he laughed too but he didn’t offer me a discount. I’ve always meant to ask him how many he sells, and have felt awkward about it: asking about sales figures, like asking about someone’s salary or sexual history, feels intrusive, because numbers alone are stark without some surrounding context to take the edge off them. Today I asked, in a roundabout way. He told me he’s heard of publishers who print a run of as few as 350 copies, and he grinned. Though what he saves on postage he probably spends on shoe leather, I don’t think he does badly.

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